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New Technology Creates Excitement for Insurers

Robert Regis Hyle | December 04, 2015

Although insurance often is considered a laggard behind other industries when it comes to adopting new technology, Mark Breading, a partner with Strategy Meets Action, believes insurance is not alone when it comes to what to do about technology.

“The challenge everyone faces is things are moving so fast now that it's hard to keep up, let alone figure out how to incorporate things into their business,” he says. “We are in a connected world that is becoming more connected every day. Other industries are moving fast to adopt these technologies, but the challenge for insurers is how they connect to this connected world. What does it mean for them?”

Donald Light, director of Celent’s North America property & casualty insurance practice, looks at the new technology before us and breaks it into two groups: technology that might make a big difference in how insurance operates, and technology that is cool, but probably not going to make a difference in the industry.

In the first category he lists telematics, the Internet of Things, and drones. The second category includes biometrics, Google Glass, and bitcoins.

“I'm struggling not to use the word ‘fun’ with these areas,” he says “Fun is good, but where is the business value. Google Glass, which is making a comeback in some form, did go away, but they are trying to re-launch it—maybe a bit more quietly. It was fun but (Google) never found a way to create business value, at least not in insurance.”

Some technology, such as touch IDs and biometrics, could make things quicker and easier—from a policy issue standpoint—especially on the life side, but their use is dependent on other hardware/software being available with insurance companies.

“I have the Novo notebook computer with a fingerprint identifier, which is nice, but I've never used it. No insurance company has ever asked if I have that capability,” he said.

Light differentiates between bitcoins as a type of non-governmental currency and block change technology, which he describes as the underlying manner in which bitcoins work. As an alternative currency or non-governmental sanctioned currency, Light believes bitcoins is “basically flaming out,” although if the world economy turns bad it may make a comeback.

“If there is a social/political disruption, people will turn to other forms of currency,” he says. “I hope things don't turn bad, but it's possible.

What Light finds more interesting from an insurance technology point of view is the blockchain technology, which he claims is getting interest in terms of R&D with other financial services industries.

 “It's a more secure way to create and secure records,” he says. “It could find its way into insurance. Is there an IT business case—faster, cheaper, better, and more secure? If those are all true, why not? But I don't think the business case has been made yet.”

The Big Three

Breading contends there are three areas insurers have to consider when studying the possibilities for new technology. He points out the implications are different for each of them.

  1. For internal use: Such examples here involve Erie Insurance using Google Glass for claims or USAA using drones for claims. Other examples involve using virtual reality for training, using bitcoins to manage secure documents and transactions, and using the IoT to manage their own facilities and assets.

“There are a lot of things insurers can do to make their own operations more efficient and effective,” says Breading. “The adoption rate will be based on competition within the industry. There is a lot of interest in drones. Larger insurers see others experimenting with drones and getting licenses from the FAA, so they are trying to move into that space and leverage it.”

  1. Products and services: This is where the use of technology by other industries is changing the whole risk landscape, according to Breading. The automobile manufacturers are automating more of their vehicles, and not just fully autonomous vehicles that will be prevalent on the road 10 or 15 years from now, but collision avoidance, self-parking, and other features built into vehicles.

“It's changing the risk—some for the better and some for the worse—so insurers have to adapt,” says Breading.

The wearables industry, with so much focused on fitness, is another area that will affect health, adds Breading. Such new technologies will change risk, but the question is how fast are insurers going to re-think products, coverages, and how to bundle some of those capabilities with their products?

“At our SMA Insurer Innovation Awards, we gave one to the John Hancock Vitality Program,” he says. “They re-thought the product to incorporate Fitbit and give policyholders gamification capabilities to manage their health, it's a win/win.”

  1. Customer experience. Other industries are shaping the customer experience and expectations. When you look at areas such as mobile payment and other payment technologies, using artificial intelligence for virtual assistance, using semantic technologies to build in self-service capabilities, there are many possibilities that other industries are grasping onto, according to Breading.

 3D Replacement Parts

Light can see 3D printers finding life in certain kinds of repair scenarios for insurers, particularly building repair from fire or water damage or possibly auto repair. The cost of materials is a big part of any claim and if repair people can use 3D printers to manufacture quality parts that meet the specs, 3D printing seems possible.

“I try to track 3D printers but I haven't seen them used in those circumstances yet,” says Light. “The reality is auto repair and residential building repair are a mom-and-pop-type trades. Many are small businesses and small businesses generally are not on the forefront of using new technology. There is potential and insurers can push it along if they think there is a business case, but there is a way to access all those parts today, so 3D printers have to be faster, cheaper, and better in enough places where they can start getting into small businesses.”

The 3D printer technology ultimately will have a massive impact on the entire manufacturing industry, according to Breading. “I think in the next few years it will have a huge impact on any kind of casualty claims disability, workers’ compensation, and those types of coverage,” he says.

Breading adds 3D printing is doing amazing work with prosthetics. Companies are able to create custom prosthetics at a reasonably low cost compared to what they cost in the past.

“They do models of a person's brain or heart so the surgeon can evaluate and practice on it before they do brain or heart surgery,” says Breading.

Flying Low

Insurers have been in the forefront of pushing the Federal Aviation Administration for licenses to use drones, but the agency has been fairly restrictive thus far. Property claims surveys of roof conditions for underwriting is one area where insurers could take advantage of the technology, according to Light.

“If you make a living climbing on a roof and inspecting, it is dangerous, particularly if the roof is damaged,” he says.

There are image providers that do satellite surveillance of intact roofs, which is a good way to get a sense of the aging condition, but Light points out the advantage of a drone is to get a lot closer and take high-quality pictures to get a better opinion on the roofs., particularly when there is damage to the roof, either to a single residence or, in the case of a catastrophe, multiple residences.

“You can get a lot of good information for processing claims quickly with drones,” Light says. “With the best adjusters on the ground it gives them mobile support you just can't match. I would put drones in a place where there is a good business case for their use.”

Act Quickly

Insurers need to create a culture of innovation, according to Breading. There is value in having an individual or small team looking at new technology and trying to find ways for it to fit into their own operations.

“The larger the company the easier it is to set aside folks to do that work, but more importantly is getting everybody to think about some of the things happening,” he says. “If I'm an actuary or working in claims—and it doesn't have to be the head of claims—you can have adjusters come forward and say, 'This would be good if we could use Google Glass in the field.’ It's about creating expectations that you want—new ideas—and tell them how you can do your job better.”

He adds those working in marketing or product development have to be seriously thinking about not just experience and history, but how things are changing and how to adapt to all the real-time data, not just what happened over the past 10 to 20 years.

“It's not just about insurers thinking about their product or customers,” says Breading. “It's about insurers participating in this connected world. There are lots of other industries that are going to be gathering data and interacting with customers in various ways. Insurers have to tap into that.”

Breading points to the case of a connected home. He feels it’s great to have a scenario that says let's connect all our appliances, monitor the pipes and sump pumps so the insurer can alert you if something appears to be going wrong and you can take preventive action. The providers of those appliances are going to want that information and insurers will want to be connected to them and repair companies to dispatch them when there’s a problem.

“It's not clear how that is all going to work together, though,” says Breading. “Does the homeowner want the insurer at the center of all that or just aware of it so the homeowner can get a discount because the services are in play. Maybe the insurer has a preferred-provider network to do preventative repair. It will be interesting to see how that evolves.”

Many insurance companies will see connected homes, connected cars, connected businesses, and connected agriculture as opportunities to assume more of a risk manager position for their policyholders. Take the case of a farm. They have tons of data streaming to Monsanto and John Deere about their seeds and their combines. Large farms are Big Data machines, but Breading hasn’t seen carriers playing much of a role in that area.

“Insurers should be participating in some way to do the risk managing,” says Breading. That's where an insurer's expertise is.”

Banks and Financial Services

Comparing insurers with other financial services is almost like comparing apples and oranges. Light points out insurers deal in a physical world—buildings, automobiles, people. Investment banks don’t and regular banks do somewhat.

“Insurers are more committed to understanding the physical world and understanding the risks of the physical objects they are insuring,” he says. “From that point of view, the insurance industry could be a leader and banking and investment banking could be followers. An exception to that is the fintech world. My definition of fintech is it is new technology that truly disrupts business models in some financial services sector.”

Crowd-sourcing loans or being able to accelerate the underwriting process are some of the more disruptive examples of fintech and they tend to live in commercial retail banking and somewhat in brokerages.

“Fintech is in an earlier stage of potential disruption in insurance, or it may never achieve its promise of true disruption in insurance,” says Light. “You can chalk that up to the heavier regulatory environment insurers have to operate in. I tend to be cautious on points other people are promoting. Fintech is kind of a sleeper. I suppose you could also say machine intelligence in analytics and underwriting have the potential for fundamentally altering how insurers operate, but I think the business cases need to be proven.”

Privacy and Security

Privacy is another huge issue that society as a whole is struggling with. It's great to be able to connect everything and get all this great data for insight, but do people really understand what's being collected and analyzed about them, asks Breading.

“Do they have the ability to authorize that use and should they?” asks Breading. “Who can get access to the data?”

This also is connected to the problem of cybersecurity. Breading believes cybercrime and cyber-liability are already huge issues in the insurance industry and carriers are on the front end of this big wave.

“I'm not often a pessimist, but it could get way worse,” says Breading.

He doesn't think it will be a problem for the large carriers because they have research teams and can set up a connected car division and figure out how to capitalize from that. Many midtier companies are innovative and agile enough to adapt and follow because the technology is not expensive.

“You just have to be creative and bold in how you use it,” says Breading. “Some of the smaller companies are going to be challenged. If you are a $10 million farm mutual company in a few counties in Ohio, I think times are going to get tougher. Those carriers have been quite successful within a mutual approach and strong relationships in the local communities, but as the next generation is rising up in those communities and they are dealing with everyone else via mobile and they see they could actually get more capabilities with bigger companies to manage their risk, it could be a challenging time for the smaller companies.”

 


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